Get with the Program(ming)
New products and games teach computer programming to kids
Tech / 20 Mar 2012
Education is clearly going digital, whether or not rumors of all-iPad classrooms are true. To equip students with the skills needed for future job prospects, initiatives like The Guardian’s Digital Literacy Campaign advocate for upgrading computer science and IT curricula in schools. Soon, the three Rs will be four, with Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic joined by pRogramming for true 21st century learning.
Raspberry Pi: Raspberry Pi
is a barebones, yet fully programmable, Linux PC that’s only slightly larger than a credit card and costs just $35. The British charity behind it, The Raspberry Pi Foundation, spent six years researching innovative ways to spark a passion for programming among children. Committee Chair Professor Simon Peyton Jones asks, “Do we want the adults of tomorrow to see [computers] as mysterious boxes they can’t understand, or do we want them to have a sense of how to master it?” Once connected to the single circuit board’s USB, Ethernet and video outputs, students can experiment with coding, using programs like Python or Perl without fear of irreversible errors.
Code Hero: Kickstarter project Code Hero
is a computer game that teaches kids Javascript and Unity 3D from within the game itself. In this first person shooter, code flies along the walls and players must use a ‘code gun’ to copy and shoot it into other parts of the level. Players are required to execute code equations in order to fire; so, “y+=2” will move the object up two meters, while "player.transform.position=hitObject.transform.position" will teleport the player to the object. Gamers start using powerful code without needing to understand it (ideal for beginners), but as they progress, they learn to master it in order to conquer the game’s specific challenges.
Scratch Jr: Scratch Jr
may have children learning to code before they can read or write. In 2007, the original Scratch was released to teach 8- to 13-year-olds how to assemble games and animations by snapping together color-coded blocks of instructions. The more they created, the more sophisticated their computational and mathematical understanding became. Scratch Jr, which was designed for an even younger demographic of 3- to 8-year-olds, has been further simplified with bright primary colors and voice-over commands. The program is set to launch this summer, just in time to keep young minds sharp during the school vacation. Hopefully, these kids will still get outside for some much needed vitamin D.
 
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